After 13 years of living in Forest Park, four of which spent as a school board member, Marilyn Garapolo is saying goodbye.

Garapolo was chosen as school board president in April and has served as a member of the Forest Park School board since 2001. She is bidding goodbye to Forest Park and moving with her husband Tony to Dwight, Illinois 72 miles Southwest of Chicago. The property is a portion of a farm that Garapolo’s father once farmed, thereby making this a once in a lifetime opportunity, according to Garapolo.

“The chance to live on the land that my father once owned and bring it back into my family is just too good to pass up,” she said. “My mother and my brother live there and it will really be nice to live in the same town as them. My brother had already told me that I need to run for school board in Dwight. But, I think I am going to take my time and adjust to my surroundings.”

Garapolo, who owns a small network marketing business that distributes health and wellness products, began her tenure with the school board not based on any strong aspirations, but rather on a small, innocuous comment made by a friend.

“I was an election judge in November 2000,” she said. “I worked with a school teacher in River Forest and she told me I should run for school board. When you are an election judge, you have plenty of down time to wait for voters, so we had a lot of time to talk about it. I really had never considered running because I never had any children in the Forest Park School system. But, I thought it could be interesting. So, I went to a school board meeting and talked to Dr. (Randy) Tinder. After that conversation, I decided to throw my hat in April of 2001. I ran unopposed and joined the board. I really felt like I came to a school board with no attachments. Everyone else on the board had been born and raised and in the community, I came with a new perspective.”

After being elected, Garapolo said she immediately began to take advantage of workshops offered by the Illinois Association of School Boards. When she was elected board president, Garapolo began to take steps toward becoming a Master school board member, also offered through the association. The master school board program offers four levels of awards. Garapolo recently garnered Master school board (third level) member based on her attendance of these workshops. While she gladly accepted the award, it was not the impetus for Garapolo.

“You study what it takes to be effective and that was my main goal,” she said. “They offer workshops on many topics such as student learning. The workshops are very helpful, especially for someone who does not have an education background. It really is just time commitment…As school board members, we are responsible for polices that go on in the schools and accountable for taxpayers money, I don’t take that lightly.”

It was this sort of devotion to the voluntary school board that endeared Garapolo to many of her colleagues.

“Marilyn has done a great job,” fellow school board member Glenn Garlisch said. “She has been very inspirational to me, considering how involved she has been with the children and schools in the district. It really took the air out of me when she said she was leaving, but these things happen. Marilyn will really be missed. She just has this aura about her that you just want to give her a hug.”

Though initially surprised by Garapolo’s announcement, board member Steve Johnsen understood why Garapolo decided to step down.

“I was surprised that she would leave after being just elected president, but this opportunity is something she has always wanted,” he said. “Marilyn was really fabulous to work with because she was always very energetic and very involved. She really was instrumental in getting this past school referendum passed, which was incredibly important for us to continue to improve the district.”

Indeed, while listing reducing class sizes to a mandatory 20 children per class as one of her achievements, Garapolo said getting the recent school referendum passed in 2004 was her proudest achievement as a school board member.

“I worked really hard on the referendum and I was very active participant on the team that worked to get it passed,” she said. “Prior to the referendum being passed, I would go have coffee on Madison and overhear people speak badly about the schools. But, the referendum gave us the edge to move forward and the capability to have quality schools.”

After Garapolo steps down on November 10, the school board will then have 45 days to replace her. If the board does not pick a replacement within the 45-day time frame, the regional superintendent will then make the decision, but school board member Larry Buckely does not expect the board will have trouble finding a new president within that time frame.

“I think someone will step up and take the position, perhaps vice-president Lois Bugajsky will take the seat, we shall see,” he said. “We haven’t really discussed it yet, but I am sure we will discuss it much more in depth during the next meeting.”

Though Garapolo will soon be replaced, she is confident she left her mark on the school board and Forest Park.

“I think one of the strengths of our school board is that we achieved unity. That is really what is what makes a school board strong. We might not agree on everything but if you have unity, you can accomplish a great many things. I didn’t see that in many other districts…It really is bittersweet leaving here, but of course Forest Park will always have a place in my heart. Along with joining the school board, I also started a garden club here. So, I feel like I really gave my fullest here and that I accomplished a lot of things.”